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FROM HOMOPHOBE TO ADVOCATE: Susan’s Journey to Tolerance and Acceptance

Susan Atuhura, a professional monitoring and evaluation specialist working with Action Group for Health, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA) Uganda is one whose journey from homophobia to acceptance of sexual and gender minorities is worth sharing.

 Though she is now passionate about humanitarian work, it hasn’t always been this way; Susan started working closely with LGBT persons in 2015 and at the time, was nothing but closed off to the idea of closely associating with LGBT persons as well as sex workers. .

“I couldn’t understand how one can leave very beautiful women and choose to go after a fellow man or why someone would wake up one day and choose to sleep with several for money; I couldn’t understand that at all. Had I been given a gun, I would have willingly pulled the trigger on one of these people,” Susan recalls.

At the height of the anti-homosexuality bill, Susan was among the cluster of Ugandans who were in support for “hang them” clause but  three years later, after unearthing the myths and misconceptions usually told about LGBTI people, attributes her previous attitude to lack of knowledge about sexuality and gender identity.

 “When I started out at this job, like many other people who don’t differentiate between promotion and advocacy, I found myself wondering why God had placed me here. I didn’t even think I would handle working with LGBT people and sex workers because they were everything I stood against,” says of her first impression when she got the details of her new job.

What Susan realized later was she had never met an LGBT identifying person or sex worker in person and during residential project orientation; she interacted with several MSM and AWs.

“During this first day of the training, I didn’t learn anything; I was pondering where the world is heading with the ‘craziness’ that surrounded me. By evening I hadn’t checked in and the only available room was next to a sex worker’s. I didn’t sleep the whole night because I was scared and thought ‘these people’ would attempt to conjure me into sex but somehow day break came and my fears were put to rest.”

The following day, Susan absolved to make an effort; she sat next to a sex work activist who narrated her life experience as an out-sex worker and activist. Through the conversation, Susan discovered that the sex worker was the core pillar for her family’s survival and had educated all her siblings and built a house through the earnings from sex work.

“During the course of the training, I interacted with several other people including transgender persons and within a few months, my attitude started to change although deep down, I was still uncomfortable with the idea of people of the same sex being sexually attracted to each other.”

She has now resorted to using social media to create awareness and advocate for inclusion of LGBT persons and sex workers. This advocacy has however caused conflict between her friends and family, something she says she views as an opportunity to sensitize the people closest to her.

Susan has boldly explained that she doesn’t need to be a lesbian to fight or demand for the human rights of LGBTI persons because even if she is not one of them, she understands them and deserve a right to live.

As an M&E specialist who works with an organisation advocating for equal access of health services, Susan has discovered that discrimination of LGBT persons is still part and parcel of the Ugandan health system. She cites the need for sensitization of health workers about the issues regarding sexuality and gender identity. Many of the health workers forget that besides one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, his/her access to health services is a basic need.

Susan believes that the anti-gay agenda has been fueled by propagandists who have branded sexual and gender minorities as promoters of a western culture with many alleging that they are after financial gain and are after recruiting children.

Susan says that from personal experience, all these allegations are fallacies designed to ruin their reputation in society and make people hate them more.

“If these people allege that LGBT persons have a lot of money, why have I seen many struggling to get what to eat, or even rent. Some are very sick and can’t even afford treatment. So what money is it that they are always talking about?” Susan now questions.